The Herald Bulletin

December 21, 2013

Howard Hewitt: Still time to buy Christmas wine


The Herald Bulletin

---- — A bottle of wine is an easy and often-appreciated holiday gift. Whether it’s a traditional Christmas present or a gift brought to a social occasion as a ‘thank you,” wine is a big part of many holiday celebrations.

Gifting the real wine lover isn’t simple though. If there is an oenophile on your shopping list it’s easy to pick a nice bottle if you know the individual’s preferences. In such cases, it’s just a matter of arriving at a price point.

If you wish to buy someone a nice bottle of wine as a gift and you have no idea what they drink, it gets a little tricky. The rules are pretty much the same whether your friend drinks $15 wine or $50 wine – go with the safe choice.

A gift of red wine is always appreciated but don’t over think it. It’s not the time to purchase your first Carmenere, Barolo, or Petit Sirah. If you want to gift wine at any price you really can’t go wrong with Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet has often been called the king of wine grapes. It’s the basis for the great wines of Bordeaux and long ago put California on the world wine map. Furthermore, Cabernet is grown all around the world.

Pinot Noir is a gift for the more discerning wine consumer. Pinot comes in as many styles as any varietal but even real Pinotphiles will appreciate a good bottle.

So, what do you buy? There are two safe and easy approaches to this old problem. If you’re buying Cab or Pinot for a newer or casual wine consumer there are plenty of good bottles at $15-$20. But, buy a name you know. Don’t go for the bottle with the cute name or appealing label. But a Cabernet from Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, Sebastiani, or similar California producer whose name you’ve seen on the shelves.

If you want to gift a Pinot at less than $20 the same rule applies. Unfortunately for your shopping convenience, value-priced Pinot is tough to find and often produced by names you may not know. Here are a few suggestions: New Zealand’s Dashwood, Oregon’s A-Z Pinot, California’s Fleur Carneros Pinot, MacMurray Ranch from Sonoma, or even an affordable Burgundy such as Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune Villages.

There are great choices at a slightly higher pricer for California Cabernet. Mondavi Napa Cabernet is an outstanding pick for under $30. Franciscan, Duckhorn, and Rutherford Ranch deliver great Cabs around $30 as well. If you want one in the $50 range, then look for Markham, Charles Krug, Chappellet or Joseph Phelps.

If you’re gifting Pinot Noir, try Artessa’s dynamite Sonoma County Pinot at $25. Lange’s Willamette Valley Pinot for $24, or any entry level Oregon Pinot in the $25-$35 range. If you’re wanting to gift better Pinot Noir look for an Oregon label at the $40-$60 price point. If you really want the bigger fruit of a California Pinot Noir with great elegance look for Russian River Valley on the label. Many will argue about the regions but for my money the valley produces some of California’s very best.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for 23 Midwestern newspapers. Write him at: hewitthoward@gmail.com.